Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yurika Nakamura on the Frontlines in Boston (updated)

translated by Brett Larner

Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) is running Monday's Boston Marathon, only her third attempt at the distance. In her last marathon Nakamura was the only Japanese woman to finish the Beijing Olympics, where she was 13th. She vowed to work on her track speed before returning to the marathon. At last summer's World Championships she was one of the highlights of the Japanese team, with three PBs in three starts on the track over 5000 and 10000 m and unafraid to lead each of her races. With only a 2:25 PB from her 2008 debut Nakamura is unlikely to attract much pre-race attention, but the simple fact that she is there says she feels ready for something big in Boston. The local Hyogo edition of the website recently published this interview with Nakamura. When you were a child you weren't a particularly fast runner.
Nakamura: I loved playing kick the can and hide and seek, but I was really slow. When I was in 6th grade I finished 6th in an intramural race so I decided to join the track team when I went to junior high. The older people on the team were all super nice and didn't have the usual kind of pecking order, so practice always had a great relaxed atmosphere that made me want to be there and be part of it. But I wasn't good enough to make Nationals.

If that was the case then why did you decide to join the track team when you went to Nishinomiya High School?
I wanted to go to a university where the emphasis was on studying, so when I got to high school I was really struggling to decide, "Should I keep running? Should I quit?" My advisor, Kenkichi Hagiwara kind of gave me a push when he told me, "Well, why don't you just try it and see?" There were a lot of high-level runners at the school so it was really hard, but I listened to Mr. Hagiwara's advice, "If you're going to doing something your goal should be to the best," and I learned the importance of working hard every day of your life.

You met Team Tenmaya's head coach Yutaka Taketomi when you were in your first year of high school, right?
Coach Taketomi had come to scout some of the older girls. I hadn't run any decent times at all yet, but he told me, "You run very well." When he told me that, in my heart I immediately settled on becoming a Tenmaya runner. I knew then I wanted to make the national team and run in the Olympics.

Four years after you became a corporate runner you ran the Nagoya International Women's Marathon in 2008. Even though it was your first marathon you beat Sydney Olympics gold medalist Naoko Takahashi and won.
The whole time I was training I kept telling myself, "You can win." I remember that since Takahashi was there the sides of the roads were jam-packed with people cheering. When I made my move with 10 km to go it was with the state of mind, "If you're not completely focused on this then you're going to lose."

Winning Nagoya got you onto the Beijing Olympics team. You came 13th and were the only Japanese woman to reach the finish line.
You really have some heavy responsibility when you put on the national uniform, you know? I couldn't keep my concentration when I was in the race and just lost it internally. I thought, "Losing you mental endurance means you are weak," or something like that. The Olympics made me realize that I wasn't world-class and that I still had a long way to go before I got to that level.

What are your future goals?
I want to make the Olympics again. To improve my speed I stopped marathoning after Beijing and went back to improving my 10000 m times and whatnot. I'm going to run the Boston Marathon and just want to take on whoever's up front.

What does running mean to Yurika Nakamura?
It's what lets me grow. That's because you quickly learn what your weak points are. Especially in the marathon, there's no faking your way through it. When you honestly feel from your heart, "I've grown," that's when you want to run the most.

Can you give us a message for all the amateur running enthusiasts out there?
Have a goal, think about positive results when you're training, and enjoy it when you run. I also want to keep developing into someone whose running will make everyone happy.

Yurika Nakamura - born April 1, 1986
5000 m: 15:13.01 (12th, Berlin WC final, 2009)
10000 m: 31:31.95* (3rd, Hyogo Distance Carnival, 2008)
half marathon: 1:09:20 (1st, Sapporo, 2009)
marathon: 2:25:51 (1st, Nagoya 2008 - debut)
*Nakamura ran a PB of 31:14.39 to finish 7th in the Berlin WC 10000 m but the mark was later disallowed because she was part of the group who went off course due to officials' error in cone placement.

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